Thursday, June 25, 2015

A media friendship forged

Potenteau with a passion to tell a story, even through a lens
It is a bitter sweet day as colleague Doyle Potenteau officially leaves the sports department at the Kelowna Daily Courier. I have known for a while now that Doyle was likely on the 'back nine' at the 2015 Memorial Cup in Quebec City and was contemplating a change. The writing was clearly on the wall. Potenteau wanted to change the direction of his journalism career which would allow him to spend more time with his family. For that alone, I applaud a man who I have developed a close relationship with over the years.
Potenteau in Brandon 2007 on one of many Rockets road trips
I dare say that Potenteau and I have a very unique relationship among competing media in the city of Kelowna. While he was covering the Rockets as the Courier's beat writer for print, I was trying to get the leg up on him as the radio broadcaster of the team. Our relationship wasn't built on competition though, but more on a mutual respect we had for one another's craft.
With the Memorial Cup in Rimouski 2009
Our friendship blossomed thanks to countless days and nights spent on the road together. We were travelling companions who ending up treating each other as brothers.
Potenteau speaking to a soft spoken Jamie Benn in 2008
My first introduction to Potenteau came in the fall of 2000 when I left the Swift Current Broncos to join the Kelowna Rockets and Potenteau arrived a few months earlier at the Kelowna Daily Courier after a stint on the lower mainland. We were both new on the scene and quickly gravitated to one another more out of support than anything else. Quickly that developed into a friendship.
We almost always roomed together on Kelowna Rockets road trips. We spent 15 seasons travelling with one another, going in and out of hotels, covering hockey games, eating at restaurants and most importantly laughing at what life threw our way. We travelled endless miles/kilometers in a radio station vehicle over those 15 years, many times in the early morning hours with very little sleep. The only thing keeping us awake, with Doyle at the wheel, was often an 80's song cranked on the radio or CD player that prompted us to break into song.
Doyle or I would take lead vocals while at others we attempted to sing in harmony.
We attended four Memorial Cups together with many a late evening in a local watering hole. We would sometimes put our life in danger by visiting an establishment that came on the recommendation of a local citizen, but we always seemed to come out unscathed.
A trip to Portland in 2015 WHL playoffs
I will always remember the time, in 2002, when Doyle and I hesitantly exited a warm Kelowna Rockets bus on a -34 degree day in Regina, with a windchill to match, and feverishly ran as quickly as our legs could carry us inside a warm restaurant. We often marvelled how we became so soft living in the warm climate of BC despite both originally growing up in Saskatchewan.
On the road, Doyle and I were pretty much inseparable.
In a media world full of egos, Potenteau doesn't carry that with him. Doyle has the right to considering he has the ability to churn out a game story with pin point accuracy, clarity and quotes in the blink of an eye. Potenteau isn't arrogant. He isn't cocky. Doyle is confident in his abilities, but cranking out story after story while covering one of the best junior teams in all of Canada will do that.
Potenteau is smart, honest, trust worthy and generous. I mention generous because more often than not, Potenteau was the first to pick up the bill at any establishment we happened to frequent. Sure, I have alligator arms, but one of Doyle's greatest attributes is his generosity. Potenteau is a giving person. He gives of himself which makes him such a valuable friend.
Seeing Doyle officially resign from the Daily Courier sports department is a sad day for me selfishly. I won't have him by my side as a wing man on those long Kelowna Rockets playoff runs we both are accustomed to enjoying.
While Potenteau and my relationship as colleagues on the Rockets beat is now over, our friendship remains as strong as ever and will remain that way. The only problem I see is finding a new singing partner that enjoys 80's music and is willing to break into song without hesitation on a long playoff road trip.
Something tells me it just won't be the same without Potenteau at my side.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Rockets regular season schedule released

The Kelowna Rockets 2015-2016 regular season schedule was released today. The team will open defense of its Western Hockey League championship September 25th against the Kamloops Blazers. On that night, the team will raise a Western Hockey League championship banner to the rafters as well as a Western Conference championship banner. It doesn’t end there though. The Rockets will also have another BC Division banner among the three that will be hoisted high above before what is expected to be a sell out crowd. 

The Rockets will open the season playing eight of their first 11 games on the road. The only three home games feature dates against Kamloops, Victoria and Red Deer.  After opening the season on home ice, the team ventures out on a six game road trip which features an Alberta road swing with games in Edmonton, Red Deer, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat. In the big picture, the Rockets play thirteen of its first 21 games on opposition ice.

The Rockets will again play a double header in Portland this season with games November 6th and 7th.

The team visits Prince George for back-to-back games on October 16th and 17th and again on February 12th and 13th.

The team will make a Saskatchewan road trip again this winter, playing six games in nine nights. 

That road trip includes a stop in Brandon in a rematch of the WHL final against the Wheat 
Kings on December 12th.         

The Rockets will play the Kamloops Blazers, Prince George Cougars, Vancouver Giants and Victoria Royals eight times each.

The team will ring in New Years in Everett on January 1st.

The Rockets open the season with three games in three nights.  The team will play three games in three nights – four times this season.

Friday, June 19, 2015

WHL celebrates 50 years

I'm fifty. Fifty years-old. I'm Sally O'Malley and I'm 50!
Remember that skit from Saturday Night Live? I laugh every time I see it. 
Just think, the Western Hockey League is celebrating its 50th season in 2015-2016. I am happy to be invited to the 72 game celebration as a broadcaster of this great league.
For the past 20 seasons, the Western Hockey League has been a big part of my life. It has brought me employment as a broadcaster for both the Swift Current Broncos and Kelowna Rockets. It is the WHL that has allowed me access to elite players between the ages of 16 and 20. I have been able to get to know them both personally and professionally. 
I have witnessed a young coach like Todd McLellan, who I spent five years with as coach/broadcaster with the Swift Current Broncos, accelerate to a solid career in the NHL. I have had the privilege of riding the bus with Marc Habscheid, Jeff Truitt, Ryan Huska and now Dan Lambert. Witnessing championships, watching players develop and mature and then move on has been rewarding. 
I have travelled across Canada thanks to the Western Hockey League. Without it I wouldn't have visited Quebec City (twice), London, Ontario or Rimouski, Quebec. I would have never stepped foot at the Toyota Center in Tri City or ventured up to Prince Albert to watch a game at the Art Hauser Centre. I can guarantee, I would have never made 32 separate trips up to Prince George to watch hockey!!
In the last 20 years, thanks to the Western Hockey League, I've witnessed some of the best hockey on the planet. I've been able to see a young Shea Weber, Sergei Varlamov, Pavel Brendl, Nic Petan and Brendan Gallagher dominate before going on to pro careers. Some attain their goals of making it to the NHL, others play semi pro and many go to university, but all have been a delight to watch.
I've seen new buildings emerge in Kent, Everett, Moose Jaw and Cranbrook BC. I will have the privilege this fall of seeing the Tigers play their first season in a new facility in Medicine Hat. I've witnessed franchises reborn in Vancouver, Victoria and Edmonton and others re-locate to Chilliwack, Kent and Cranbrook. 
The WHL has changed immensely since I first stepped into the broadcast booth in 1995. The biggest improvements can quickly be broken down into three areas.
1) Coaching.
2) The influx of American born players which has made the product better.
3) A decrease in fighting/intimidation and an emphasis on skill development/creativity.
In my opinion, the WHL has never looked more pro-like than it is today. 
It has been an honour to be associated with the Western Hockey League. 
For those that make it tick, the owners, the shareholders of small market teams and the parents that allow their sons to flourish by leaving home to play in this great league, I tip my cap for your contribution in making the Western Hockey League the greatest junior hockey league on the planet.
Raise a glass in 2015-2016 to 50 years and another prosperous 50 to come!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Things that make me go hmm....

My broadcast location at Le Colisee
  • Have we finally come to grips with what happened Sunday night in Quebec City? Didn't think so, but it will get better. The good news is I haven't see anyone with Kelowna Rockets jersey's preparing to jump off the W.R Bennett Bridge, so we are taking baby steps. Joking aside, it was a great season and several banners will be raised this September at Prospera Place including a red WHL banner as league champions. I know, I know, we wanted the white one which is symbolic of Memorial Cup champions. Let's make a sixth appearance shortly and get it done!
  • I have had the privilege of attending five Memorial Cups with the Kelowna Rockets. This one in Quebec City will go down as the best ever. It edges out the 2004 tournament in Kelowna for several reasons. At the 04' tournament, I called every game which didn't allow me to really enjoy the night life and all of the other fabulous things outside of the arena that make the Memorial Cup such a special event. Don't get me wrong, I had to compose myself when Josh Gorges lifted the Memorial Cup over his head in celebration to the 66 hundred onlookers at Skyreach Place, (it was called Skyreach Place back then) but it was a hectic work week. Fulfilling but busy. 
  • Having attended the Memorial Cup in Quebec City in 2003, I will admit I was able to enjoy it more this time around. Twelve years ago I was a deer caught in headlights when it came to covering the event in the most efficient manner. It just seemed easier to cover this time around and experience has something to do with that. I was able to obtain the content I needed for a one hour pre-game show before every Rockets broadcast, yet I had the ability to enjoy the sights and sounds that Quebec City offers.
  • I never did get used to the Eastern zone time change. We would regularly hit the sheets at 3 am and had to bounce out of bed in order to catch a shuttle to Le Colisee for morning practices and interviews with the players. Afternoon naps were a part of the routine.   
  • Growing up loving hockey, I had a great appreciation for Le Colisee and the fact the Memorial Cup was the final sporting event ever in that historic building. Calling Sunday's game in the broadcast booth was an honour and a privilege that I will never forget. The press box was old, dirty, musty and oh so beautiful! I am grateful to have called Memorial Cup games in that building twice. It was so rewarding being a small part in the final hockey game there before Le Colisee feels the wrath of the wrecking ball later this summer.
  • What does the building mean to those in QC? Many volunteers that worked the games were crying as they exited the building. The ice plant was shut down once the game was over. No one will every skate on that ice surface again, which graced the likes of a young Jean Beliveau and Guy Lafleur.   
  • I just received word on the number of listeners who clicked on our AM 1150 media player to listen to Sunday's Memorial Cup final. The clicks were off the charts. Our media player was on fire. We had 22 times more traffic than normal. Thanks for listening. I guess radio isn't dead by a long shot. Those that believe it is are misguided. 
  • I keep telling people that the biggest difference from the 2003 tournament in Quebec City to 2015 was the language barrier. In 03', it was tough to move around the city while communicating in English. Quebec City is French speaking (don't change. It makes you glowingly unique) primarily but the number of people, whether in media or in restaurants, pubs or at a corner store had a good grasp of the English language. It made my trip so much more enjoyable and I think the locals got a kick when I attempted to speak their language. In retrospect, I should have paid more attention when I was taught French in grade seven. Why we started taking French in school that late is beyond me?
  • It was a busy week taking phone calls from colleagues across Western Canada inquiring if I could appear on their sports talk radio show for a bird's eye view on the atmosphere at the Memorial Cup. Radio stations in Winnipeg, Edmonton and Ottawa led the charge. They were all over it. The most mind blowing, or should I say disappointing reaction was the lack of interest from Vancouver media. I didn't hear a peep from anyone in Vancouver over the Rockets playoff run nor the Memorial Cup. Maybe they just tried to avoid me? If so, it worked. 
  • It makes you wonder how much of an impact Tyrell Goulbourne would have made at the Memorial Cup? A top nine forward, who essentially played on the teams number one line with Nick Merkley and Rourke Chartier for the majority of the season, you would think his grit and speed would have been put to good use in the championship game.
  • The Rockets will return 21 of the 27 players that participated in the 2015 Memorial Cup. Sure, the team loses stars like Leon Draisaitl, Josh Morrissey, Madison Bowey, Chance Braid, Tyrell Goulbourne and Cole Martin, but a truck load of great talent returns at both ends of the ice.  Losing three marquee d-men seems like a massive hit, but honestly, the evolution of Lucas Johansen, Joe Gatenby and Devante Stephens was impressive. Stephens was on the ice when the game winning goal was scored in the Memorial Cup. I am not saying that to embarrass him, but pointing out that a 17 year-old (17 in hockey age) rookie was trusted in that position in the crucial overtime. All three played significant minutes against top notch competition during the playoff run and Memorial Cup. That experience is invaluable.    
  • Nick Merkley assured himself that he will be selected in the opening round of the NHL draft in Sunrise Florida after an excellent Memorial Cup. Merkley was a tournament all-star. If Merkley is indeed chosen in the opening round, it will be the first Kelowna Rockets forward taken since Scott Parker re-entered the draft and was plucked up by the Colorado Avalanche. 
  • One season does not make a player, nor does it make a coach. That said, it must open the conversation for head coach Dan Lambert to look at pro opportunities in the not so distant future. Lambert has more growing after a brief one year stint as a head coach in the WHL, but the future looks bright for the likeable players coach who will undoubtedly fast track his way to pro hockey. 
  • A nice message I received today on Facebook. A listener named Casey sent me this: "Hey Regan, just wanted to reach out and say although I am not a Rockets fan I check up on your blog almost daily. I enjoy reading it because it's always honest and unbiased, yet you still show that you care for your team. I have also been watching your WHL Live feeds for years and I will continue to do so in the future. You make the game sound exciting even when it's not. You are hands down the most exciting play by play man in the Dub! Keep it up. - die hard BWK fan from the Wheat City. P.S - "MERKLEY SCAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARS"
  • Kevin Parnell had a terrific week at the Memorial Cup. The part time member of the Kelowna Rockets, who works in the public relations department, was thrusted into full time duty by setting up interviews between the Rockets players and the various media. It was a busy ten days as he handled numerous requests, mostly all with a smile on his face. It was honestly nice to see him given the responsibility. If he stumbled, I didn't see it. As they say, don't let them see you sweat!!   
  • I celebrated my 20th wedding anniversary in Quebec City without my wife Diana. In this business, where travel is prevalent, it is nothing new. It's our normal. It is expected and my wife understands that anniversaries, birthdays and other special occasions will be missed because of hockey. That said, it is time to make up for lost time with a nice weekend away at Veranda Beach in the Osoyoos area this week. A three bedroom cottage awaits and we are grateful to spend the weekend together. Thanks to Veranda Beach for working out the details. You should check it out. It is beautiful. A piece of heaven if you will. Click on the banner to the right and check out the resort yourself. In French it would be described as 'Spectaculaire'!   

Monday, June 1, 2015

No crying over spilled milk...OK, just a little

Lambert was a rock star with the media
  • So close, yet so far away. Those are the lyrics from a song written by Daryl Hall and John Oates. That phrase may best describe my feeling after the Kelowna Rockets 2-1 overtime loss last night in the Master Card Memorial Cup final. My belief was the Western Hockey League champions were the better team Sunday at the Colisee, but you often see in sports one team with glorious chances and is unable to score and the other is able to capitalize. It happens. It reoccurred in the championship game Sunday and the Oshawa Generals are Memorial Cup champions for the first time since 1990. It leaves an awful feeling in your gut because the Rockets were so close. I believe just one more goal would have done it for Dan Lambert’s crew. A Tyson Baillie goal (Baillie had two glorious chances) or Nick Merkley’s breakaway opportunity in the third period would have likely sealed it for a team that played so well. Honestly, a loss would be easier to take had the final outcome been 4-1 or 4-2 with an empty netter. It would have still left an empty feeling, but it would have been likely easier to swallow. That is what I’m trying to convince myself into believing anyway.
  • So much hard work goes into building a champion. So many games are played and so many miles on the bus are spent in order to become the only two teams standing in the Memorial Cup final. My hope was to witness a smiling, puffy eyed Dan Lambert hugging Director of Player Personnel Lorne Frey on the ice surface in jubilation after a thrilling win of major juniors hockey’s top prize. I wanted Cole Martin, Madison Bowey, Josh Morrissey, Chance Braid, Leon Draisaitl and Tyrell Goulbourne (despite being injured) to end their junior careers with a win in their final game. It would have been a great way for those six to cap of their careers in the Western Hockey League.
  • This blog post can’t be all negative. Why? It was a terrific season. As mentioned, this was a glorious ride to a WHL title. There were so many thrilling moments. There were so many great goals. There were so many obstacles to overcome. It was not a smooth path towards being a goal away from winning it all. It was that bumpy ride that made it so rewarding. The 53 win season. The massive trades for Draisaitl and Morrissey. The high expectations for the team that followed and the injuries to Rourke Chartier, Josh Morrissey and Justin Kirkland. Who can forget the loss of Jackson Whistle to an appendectomy and the fear that back up’s Michael Herringer and Jake Morrissey couldn’t carry the mail? It all went down yet they just kept winning.
  • Leon Draisaitl came as advertised. The 19 year-old is a big time player. The German was named the WHL Playoff MVP and then turned his game up further by being named the Memorial Cup MVP. While not on the NHL stage yet, Draisaitl yearns to win. The Oilers first round pick was emotionally upset after Sunday’s loss, which again punctuated the point that he cared. Draisaitl cared about his teammates. Draisaitl cared about Kelowna. Draisaitl showed his character, his composure during often lengthy painful interviews with the media and wasn’t afraid to show off his dynamic skills with the puck. Was he not the best passer in Rockets colours since Colin Long? What will always stand out for me after a 7-3 win in the semifinals was Driasaitl standing in front of the media and speaking glowingly about the play of Cole Linaker, Chance Braid, Rodney Southam and a cast of teammates characterized as foot soldiers. Terrific player? Yes! Terrific person? Without a doubt.  
  • Jackson Whistle. Outside of Draisaitl, was the 19 year-old not the best Rockets player at the Memorial Cup? Whistle was solid throughout the tournament and showed how mentally strong that aspect of his game has become. Whistle was often bad mouthed by outsiders who thought he wasn’t good enough to lead the team to a WHL championship. Many went as far to suggest Bruce Hamilton should have gone after an Eric Comrie or Tristan Jarry to solidify the most important position in hockey. Egg was thrown in his face after being pulled in the first three playoff series before closing things out in a four game sweep against Brandon in the league final. If Whistle heard the naysayers, he did a tremendous of blocking it out in order to perform at the ultimate level.
  • Not like I had any doubt that Dillon Dube will be a tremendous player, but this kid is going to be a stud. The 16 year-old isn’t ordinary. Could he be as good as Nick Merkley at the same age? Injured for the majority of the season, Dube made an impact every time he was on the ice and the future is so bright for the likable player. Dube isn’t as aggressive as Merkley when hunting down pucks, but is shooting ability/accuracy and offensive awareness is above average. I think he would make a great captain down the road.
  • Nick Merkley’s stock for June’s draft must have taken a turn for the better following his showing at the Memorial Cup. Named an all-star in Quebec City, the 17 year-old never quit…not once. Merkley is a hunter. The Calgary resident takes great pleasure in three things; hunting down pucks, setting up teammates and laying body on an opponent. What a gifted player, who is now off to the NHL Combine in Toronto.  
  • Dan Lambert. What a rock star he was this week with the media. Were any of the four coaches at the Memorial Cup as relaxed and cordial with the press than Lambert? He was a delight. In fact, he was better than Ryan Huska, and Huska is a dream to deal with. The St. Malo Manitoba resident’s ability to speak fluent French only made him more of a media darling. Lambert was often seen smiling and joking around with the media, which in my view carried over to his teams’ demeanor in the pressure packed tournament. Never uptight outwardly, I think it allowed his players to play a calm, controlled game even when they experienced rough waters during its WHL playoff run and experience at the Memorial Cup. Unlike Ryan Huska, who spent seven years behind the Rockets bench as head coach, Lambert won’t be waiting long before getting a pro opportunity?      
  • How will I view the 2014-2015 edition of the Kelowna Rockets? Regardless of the outcome at the Memorial Cup, they will go down as one of the best teams the organization has ever iced. That tends to happen when you win a WHL title, but they had the ability to play at a high tempo with outlandish skill, solid defence and incredible coaching. While coming away empty handed from Quebec City, the 2014-2015 Kelowna Rockets played 101 games (pre-season/regular season/playoffs/Memorial Cup) and came within a whisker of winning it all. They gave themselves a chance, which all CHL teams ultimately wanted when the puck dropped back in September.